USA Greco

The Intense One: Cheney Haight Giving It a Shot at Non-Olympic World Team Trials

Cheney Haight will wrestle at the non-Olympic World Team Trials
Photo: John Sachs

Was there ever really a doubt?

2011 World Team member Cheney Haight (NYAC) has officially committed to taking part in November’s Non-Olympic World Team Trials. The Trial phase of the tournament takes place during the Greco Roman portion of the annual Bill Farrell/NYAC International in New York, where 71 and 80 kilograms will be contested in conjunction with the other weights. The World Championships are set for December 10th-11th in Budapest, Hungary.

Haight had a fairly busy 2015 campaign, earning bronze medals at the US Open and the Farrell in addition to a silver at the Olympic Trials Qualifier last December. This past year, he won gold at the Pan Am Championships in Frisco, Texas along with nailing down third place at those Olympic Trials, which meant another spot on the National Team. Earlier in his career, Haight competed at 74 kg but has gone up to the non-Olympic 80 kilos more and more since it was introduced. He attempted to qualify for Rio at 75, though the non-Olympic 80 kg weight seems to fit him best.

“It is a good weight for me,” says Haight. “I’ve wrestled as high as 84 in the past, 75 I can make, but I feel I am a pretty good size for this weight class. It’s my favorite weight class so far that I’ve wrestled in with my frame and everything.”

At 31 years of age, Haight has been competing at the highest level of the sport going back to his days at Northern Michigan. If you don’t count his sabbatical a few years ago, that is well over a decade of nationally-competitive Greco Roman wrestling. So while time isn’t necessarily running out on his career just yet, the Utah native is mindful of making the most of these chances while he still has them.

“I’m definitely taking every opportunity at this as my last just because I am getting a little older and pretty much writing the last chapter of my career right now”, Haight concedes. “I think it’s great, great timing, too, because it’s two Trials in a six-month period. But I’m not thinking about it like that, I’m thinking about it like every chance I’ve got, I have to put it in like it’s my last.”

Still going strong

If you go back and watch some of Haight’s matches over the past year, it certainly doesn’t appear as if he has lost a step, especially when he has competed at 80. That being said, he has done a lot of wrestling. Few sports, if any, wear an athlete down the way Greco can and it isn’t the mid-aughts anymore. The sands of time usually catch up to everyone at some point. But this is a new generation of wrestlers who understand how to prepare their bodies more adequately, giving them the ability to stay younger longer. For Haight, it’s process that begins before the day’s training is in full-swing.

“The difference now is that it takes me a little longer to warm up. Halfway through practice I feel just as agile as I was ten years ago, it just takes an extra ten minutes to work out all the creeks and stuff. But other than that, I feel stronger than I was ten years ago because I’ve been working out over the years.”

One item not lost in Haight’s willingness to compete is the subject of the non-Olympic Trials themselves. That United World Wrestling went ahead and introduced another World Championships in an Olympic year means there is a great platform for athletes in those “in-between” weights (and it also allows for another shot for those who didn’t make an Olympic team). Is it a little strange that there is a stand-alone tournament for only two weight classes? Maybe. At the same time, Cheney can’t help but see it as a positive development during an era in the sport when one is sorely needed.

“For me overall, I like it because it’s more opportunity and I think that is a big thing missing in the sport, especially for Greco and freestyle, but Greco in particular. The biggest thing hurting it is the lack of opportunities athletes have and it’s a big reason why we don’t have bigger participation. So anything like this I’m supportive of, but I can see how it could be odd at the same time.”

Fans wondering whether or not he has just started getting in gear for November don’t have to worry: Haight has been plugging away at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and will ramp up the activity as the non-Olympic World Team Trials starts getting closer. He has to. There will be a bevy of tough contenders vying for a spot along with him, so there won’t be a ton of days off leading up. But it’s Haight we’re talking about — off-days aren’t really his style to begin with.

“As long as I’m competing, I’m always practicing. I show up to practice twice a day. It’s not like the ‘fighter mentality’ where you just train for a fight. So I’m always training, but right now it’s more technique and getting my body back to its core level. But going into it, I will be training in more of a competition phase. A month before I’ll probably be wrestling live, short go’s-kind of thing.

Mentally, I always think I’m ready because I always practice.”

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